Check it out! Live comedy album!
Check it out! Live comedy album!
Hello there! I’m spankingly excited to announce that my debut album will soon be available for download. Yeah! Huzzah etc. Let joy be unconfined. If I was speaking I’d be saying all this in a trembling voice. I’m not speaking though, I’m typing (duh) but I’m typing tremblingly (not a word? Is now) so there.
I’m probably going to call it The Secret Of Happiness.
Afterthought- I guess it isn’t my debut album cos I have recorded indie rock albums with the mighty Aquila available here
But it’s my debut LIVE COMEDY MUSIC album. So whoopee and zing zang spillip. Or celebratory words to that effect.
When I know more, I’ll write more.
If you have waited absolutely ages for a bus, so long in fact that you have decided to sit down and work on song lyrics, keep on mind a few things:
(1) Keep an eye out for the bus. It may come sooner than you think. They don’t always go by the timetable ya know.
(2) If a bus does arrive unexpectedly and you still have a lyric sheet in your hand, please make sure you hold your bus pass in the other hand.
(3) And if you do happen to hold up lyrics as well as your pass, try to ensure the sheet does not say SURPRISE MOTHERFUCKER in large letters.
Just a thought. Might help to avoid some momentary unpleasantness for a fellow human being.
I will never forget the look on that guy’s face.
I’m playing a gig tonight at the Urban Coffee Company on Church Street, just off Colmore Row in Birmingham. I’m not sure how it’s going to go, cos although I booked it ages ago, thinking it’d be a good idea to test out some of the newer comedy songs in my expanding repertoire, I haven’t had the time to rehearse properly or even put together a decent set list. Never mind though, I suppose it’s just a question of winging it and seeing what works. I have long ago decided not to stress too much about live performances, you can always find something to beat yourself up about if you look hard enough, so it’s best to take each one in your stride.
And most importantly to remember that it’s supposed to be fun.
Which it usually is. I’m certainly not doing this for the money. Tonight’s venue, for instance, are paying me in food.
Yes. I am proud of myself, thanks for asking.
Perhaps I should start busking, but not actually playing music, just standing around with a guitar wearing a t-shirt saying “will play for food.” Then if someone hands me a burger I could turn around revealing writing on the reverse of the t-shirt saying “I meant VEGETARIAN food, of course, you imbecile.” Then the person would flip open the burger to show me it was a spicy beanburger or a Quorn burger or something. And that would be okay. So I’d sing them Hey Ya by Outkast or a similarly upbeat song. And then I’d stop and eat the burger while staring strangely at the person who brought it.
So come along tonight. Whatever happens, I promise to make it fun. Also, it’s free entry, and I’ve already been promised payment in food so you don’t have to bring burgers or anything.
I’ve not been updating the blog enough of late, for which I can only apologise. I have still been writing the entries, but I was caught up with finishing a second (unpublished) novel to go with my first (unpublished) novel. And also writing new songs. So my typing time has been limited, especially with the lead up to the performances of the Passion play. But I am sure that I will go back and fill in the gaps soon enough. Worry not. Oh, you weren’t worried? Fine! Sorry I cared!
It’s great weather today, which of course is torture for an ex-smoker like me. This is the perfect smoking weather, and everyone seems to have taken up smoking, and ordinarily the smell is unpleasant to me, like fumes, but combined with sunlight the scent is immediately irresistible.
But I will resist.
I am suffering. But I will resist.
To crack now (18 months in I believe) would be ridiculous and stupid. I will remain a martyr to my addiction. My performance as Jesus prepared me for this kind of pain. Being brutally tortured is nothing to the agony of sort-of wanting a cigarette every so often. Nothing, I tell you.
Hmm. I’ve been typing this up on my phone in the morning sun while waiting outside the Children’s Hospital (for reasons I won’t go into here.) And I’ve only just realised I was standing in the smoking area. No wonder everyone had a fucking cigarette. What a massive dick. Knowing I would have quite a wait, I gravitated naturally towards the place where smokers get relegated (like sub-humans or lepers. Which they are. So I have graduated to the status of ‘human’ purely by exercising self-control. Go me. I don’t really think this. I hate evangelistic ex-smokers.)
I’ve moved now. A nurse just came up to me, smiled, and said, “has the air ambulance landed?” I replied that I didn’t know, but that it’d be a hell of a thing for me to miss and wouldn’t say much for my general level of attentiveness. She laughed, but after she left I felt a bit unsettled and wondered if perhaps a helicopter could have landed on the roof of the building next to me without my noticing. It could happen. Especially as I’ve been concentrating on writing this. Longtime readers will know that I do dumb things when concentrating too hard on writing.
The helicopter is now landing. It turns out I’m unlikely to have missed it. What a dreamlike experience. I feel like I’m in a film. How the hell does that thing work? Up close it looks magical, just hovering in the air like that. I’ve taken a few photos and if any of them turn out OK I’ll put them up here, so check back.
So just to go back to the book-writing I mentioned earlier: last year I finished a novel, based on the character who appears in a short story of mine (in the ‘Writing’ section) which was published a few years ago in Structo Magazine. In early November, literally days after I finished a draft, I was at a launch party for another author’s (published) novel, (lucky bastard) and got talking to a few people, as one does. I was chatting to a guy about comedy (we both liked a lot of the same stuff such as Stewart Lee, etc) and I mentioned that I’d just written a book about a homicidal stand-up comedian.
I didn’t do a hard sell or anything, as we were just talking, but he said “ah well I work for AM Heath (which, unlearned reader, is one of the biggest literary agencies in the world.) He continued, “The book sounds really good. Send me a few chapters.” This seemed at once too good to be true and also EXACTLY like the sort of story that a young (ish) author might tell on Parkinson or Jonathan Ross: “, ah, the twist of fate that led to my rise to fame, etc.”
So next day I sprang into action (in as much as opening a laptop could be described as springing into action) and I sent the guy an initial speculative email reminding him who I was, just in case he was only being polite. He replied immediately, which was promising. I told him the title of the book which he recognised as being a reference to Bob Dylan (“if the book’s as good as the Dylan song, we’ll be laughing” was what he actually said.)
I really love Bob Dylan as you might already know, and it was a fairly obscure Dylan track so I saw this insight and musical knowledge as another really encouraging sign, thinking that if we shared tastes in comedy as well as music, surely we’d share tastes in writing: my own writing especially.
I spruced up the opening few chapters and fired them off to my man at AM Heath, happy in the knowledge that I had now secured my future and that I would now be able to provide for my family (and also prove everyone wrong who thinks I’m messing around wasting my life trying to earn money by writing and performing. Hmm.)
For a couple of months there was no response. I was a bit worried by that, but forced myself to relax. It’s a bit like the early stages of a relationship, I told myself. If you seem too keen, that can easily be interpreted as ‘desperate’ or even ‘psycho.’ Better to play it cool. I played it cool for another couple of weeks, then around Christmas I got worried that my Hotmail account had messed up. Occasionally it sends outgoing messages to my junk folder instead of to the intended recipient. So I wrote him a new email, just to say “hope you got the book, any feedback gratefully etc.”
He wrote back saying he’d liked it, particularly praising my writing style, but that he didn’t think it was right for the agency. Which is just a nice way of saying it didn’t grab him, really.
Fair enough of course, but even so I was terribly disappointed.
Chin up Rich, I thought. At least now you have a useful contact among the gatekeepers and decision-makers. Perhaps a different book, or an edited draft of the first one would be better received.
Sadly even this thin, trembling sliver of silver lining was to be denied me. I sent another email to suggest this and his reply was even more crushing. “I’m actually leaving the publishing business.”
So not only was my work not good enough to publish, it had made him want to leave the business altogether. And on top of that, he didn’t ever want to be sent anything of mine, not even to read casually in his free time. Can this be true? I’m inclined to believe it is, if only because I fail to see how saying to someone “Your writing has made me lose faith in my profession” could be thought to soften the blow of rejection. Especially when “no thanks, and don’t contact me again” would have done just as well.
All this made me feel really broken up and pointless, which is why I didn’t blog about it at the time. I don’t really know why I’m mentioning it now, there’s no moral to it and it’s not very amusing.
What we cannot change we must at least describe.
Still, eh. I don’t really have much choice other than to press on.
(Writing later, after the gig.)
It went awesomely well. In the end I was too nervous to eat beforehand so I did the gig for water. But I didn’t fuck up too much and I did several comedy routines as well as some of the darker songs. It was quiet at first but a full (ish) room by the end. Two Italian women were there and said Americano was very good and were encouraging about my attempts at the accent. My voice gave out at the end though.
My friend Emma recorded takes of Baby Blues and Your Slave (I think) and a new one called Man-Man about a superhero with no powers. So some of it should be on Youtube at some point. (It is- go here)
I got whoops and a round of applause on the solo-guitar-solo bit. Like at a proper jazz/blues gig. And I did my lengthy lovesong seduction deconstruction on Let There Be Love. (There’s a different version of this on my podcast, here. Although I mistakenly attribute it to Sinatra rather than Bennett at one point. Alcohol is a terrible thing.)
At the end I laughed and said “I’m glad I’ve wasted the last five minutes on the pointless dissection of that song.” A woman at the front said, “no, that was the best one yet,” and laughed. I pointed out that this was a backhanded compliment at best (as of course it was intended to be) and she laughed some more.
The folks who work at the Urban Coffee Company are some of the friendliest I’ve met so far. It’s so easy to get fed up in jobs like these (as I know from working in loads of pubs and clubs) so when you see people in a public-facing role who are outgoing and helpful, it really lifts the atmosphere of a place. I’ve never been there before but I’m certainly going again.
And I’m massively enjoying these shows that alternate between comedy and darker stuff. “You made us laugh and cry,” said my friend Linda, who’d come to see me play for the first time. That was exactly what I’d set out to do. Go me.
More gigs like this please.
Ideally for money.
Though food (or water) is fine too.
First off, you HAVE to go and listen to the latest Aquila Podcast. We have finally worked out what we want to do with this thing. The mix of live music and comedy and improvised banter seems to be working. Dan and myself are joined in the studio by Pointless Rinser, and that also seems to have raised the bar somewhat, despite the fact that we mistakenly attribute a Tony Bennett song to Frank Sinatra throughout. (The shame.)
Go. Listen. It is free. Tweet me @aquilalovesyou. Tell your friends.
Anyway. We don’t talk about love, we only wanna get drunk… And play bingo. Apparently. Amazing. About 20 years ago, Manic Street Preachers brought out a song called A Design For Life which swiftly and eloquently trashed the condescending right wing (ish) view of working class Britain.
Fascinatingly, said condescending view has now become party policy for the coalition government. Beautifully illustrated by this bit of Tory PR.
Does this mean that all Conservative politicians will now use nineties indie-rock as the basis for their content? I look forward to Boris Johnson’s speech for the London Mayor candidacy, “I wanna sleep with common people like you!”
Although that is entirely possible.
(The Manics song also begins with the wondrous phrase, “libraries gave us power.” If only that had been the segment that our glorious leaders had latched on to. Actually it probably was. I guess if you want to disenfranchise an entire generation, then selling their student loans to angsty cowboy debt collectors and then closing all the libraries might do the trick, especially as there are no grants any more…except Grant Shapps)
What am I talking about, you may well be asking… cast your eyes over here, then come back.
If only beer was a penny cheaper! Bang! Instant Utopian Britain!
In a couple of hundred years time there will be an Mary Antoinette-shaped apocryphal account of these events in the (digital) history books.
Someone with only a vague grasp of early 21st Century lingo will try to reproduce the incident:
And so the gentlemen of the press were like, “My right honourable Shapps, LOL, the people of England are, you know, starving and that, they need food parcels but can’t even afford the electricity to cook the stuff they’re given in the parcels. Innit.”
And the right honourable Shapps was like, “Hashtag: awkward! OMG. Well if they can’t afford food, let them play bingo. Bingo is well dench. YOLO.”
You know it.
Well, half the time.
From the 14th of April I will be playing the part of Jesus Christ in the Old Joint Stock Theatre production A Passion for Birmingham. It follows the structure of a traditional passion play in that it tells of the events leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but the show is set in the present day.
There are usually two performances a day and I am alternating the role of Jesus Christ with Seabert Henry. If you would like to come and see me be Jesus then my times and dates are Monday 14th April at 6:30pm, Tuesday 15th April at 2pm, Wednesday 16th at 8.30pm, Friday 18th at 8.30pm, and Saturday 19th at 6.30pm.
Be advised, Seabert Henry is a damn fine actor and it is well worth seeing him as the messiah also. Why not come to both? (See link below. On my non-Jesus nights, I will be playing John, a guitar-slinging, song-singing disciple.) It is an amazing piece either way, with an awesomely talented group of people involved, so if you’re interested hit the link and I’ll see you there. I will just add: do not delay as tickets are selling fast, especially for the matinees…
Just a very quick bit of bloggage to say a belated Merry C-mas and to wish everyone reading this an amazifying New Year! Treat yourself and go download a free album at http://www.aquilalovesyou.com.
Also, the latest Aquila Podcast is up in the usual place and I think it’s a really good one, we are definitely starting to hit our stride (although fans of our usual rambling inability to stay on topic will not be disappointed either.) If you want to help support our various endeavours you can donate here and it will help us to keep on creating more music and podcasts etc… or just help by spreading the word about this blog and the music and podcast and everything!
I hope that Santa (or whatever mystic fairytale judgement-being you want your kids to believe in) has brought you a terrifying avalanche of everything you ever wanted.
Love and jingle bells, with a hint of Auld Lang’s Ayne…
Yet another gig-centric blog entry I’m afraid. I’m sure that over the C-mas period I’ll be able to write about other stuff and you’ll be feasting your eyes on some more entries about jam and nonsense, lucky old you. But for now…
I had a fine time at the final Word Up of the year. It was doubly nice cos it was my last gig of the year too. The next chance to catch my act is at the Ort Cafe on 9th January. Word Up, if you don’t know, is a spoken word event held in the back room of the Yorks Bakery cafe on the last Friday of every month. I was awed by the consistently high standard of spoken word and performance poetry.
There’s a book by Henry Miller called Time Of The Assassins in which he discusses the place of poetry in a nuclear society, constantly poised on the brink of violent death or apocalyptic war. Miller states that any new poet will have to have a voice loud enough to drown out the sound of detonating bombs. Tonight I saw some great work that edged towards that explosive and combative use of words. Some of it heavily politicised; some of it deeply, almost uncomfortably personal; all of it vibrant and full of wit and impact.
I was pretty good too. I played A Beautiful Bride and two new ones, Thirteen and The Last Teenager, before unveiling a C-mas medley I had recently constructed to commemorate the season. (if you’re interested, it was Silent Night, Last Christmas, and Lonely This Christmas. As it was Mark and Ro’s final night of putting together Word Up I finished on a cheeky bit of Cameo’s tune of the same name.
It’s always sad when people move on but there is such a great sense of family and friendship to Word Up that I am sure it will continue getting better and Mark and Ro’s successors will do great things.
The room was packed and I was very hot, not least because I have started wearing a black suit and morning coat, with tails, as part of my stage gear. I love the idea of looking ridiculously formal and anachronistic in the setting of 21st Century pub and coffee house gigs. It’s at once suave and a bit odd, like being an Edwardian concert pianist parachuted into a west end night club.
There is also a practical reason: the cutaway design of the coat means that the sides don’t ride up over the guitar and mute the strings, as will often happen with a suit jacket; that’s why Nick Cave and Greg Dulli and everyone keep ’em buttoned up. They must have a higher tolerance for heat than me, cos I had to take my coat off by the second half, and there was a small commotion as someone in the second row stood up to hold my coat. This was a first for me, and I’m sure some kind of a joke, but still memorable and enjoyable, and I went along with it. I marred the debonair coat-gesture somewhat by demanding its return almost immediately, remembering that I had left the battery pack for my guitar’s built-in tuner in one of the pockets. Then I gave it back to him.
After the show, my coat got better feedback than my songs. Jealousy moved in. There is now a wedge between my coat and I. We’re like a double act, fuelled by mutual distrust and envy, but each too scared of what the world would be like without the other to ever part. This could be the beginning of a terrifying friendship…
Remember the first two eps of the Aquila Podcast can be found here and our album is still free to download from here! If you require hard copies of the No More Your Lover album or Let Me Go EP then email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://www.aquilalovesyou.com! You can get hold of me @MrRichStokes on Twitter.
I was part of a show at the Actress and Bishop in the Jewellery Quarter for Home For Waifs And Strays and it was brilliant.
If they put on anything similar then you have to go.Seriously. I had a fab time. There were live collages being created by Edward Wakefield, which was awesome. The piece he made inspired by my performance was a muscular arm crushing a heart and a snake with Gary Oldman’s head (and Gary Oldman is a snake, the Prada-advert-acting cash-whore, he can’t need the money, he was in Batman.) There was also a Meat Raffle in which two lucky winners were picked and then bound to one another with tape and wrapped like presents- simultaneously uncomfortable to watch and oddly erotic. Not that I have a fetish for wrapping paper. I simply don’t and that is an end to it.
I was also blessed by Laura Parrott, a passing dabbler in the holy and the supernatural, and then expertly and charmingly insulted by three girls calling themselves Strange Ways. There is a pic of me somewhere wearing a hat reading “porchmonkey.” I had to have the word explained to me. Oh the shame. Seriously though, I wish all my gigs were like this. My bit went well. People definitely weren’t too up for listening at first, perhaps because there was a lot of other stuff going on. So I did a few old songs, like A Beautiful Bride and Let Me Go, as well as a newer introductory passage that I’ve been using to bridge the awkward opening moments of the show, and Surprise Motherfucker, which has been turning up a lot recently. I made a couple of irritating mistakes in the set, but covered them okay. No-one would have noticed. (I think.) I chatted quite a bit between songs, and slowly won over a good portion of the room in my short set. I enjoyed the hell out of it.
After a refreshing Guinness I headed home. I was sad to miss Kate and Laura’s exorcism act, but I have been exhausted and down and sleep-deprived recently.
Not sleep deprived for any wild druggy rock and roll reason, but cos I’ve been waking up at about five or six most mornings and having strange, mild attacks – panic attacks or anxiety attacks I guess. Its just like a sudden avalanche of worry, and I get caught between struggling with my thoughts and wanting to try and sleep a bit more. Occasionally I manage it but usually just end up going to make coffee or, more often, getting stuck in a sort of feverish half-sleep where I’m not resting but not doing anything either, just stressing and overthinking. I hope this is not the beginning of serious illness. I would be interested to know: if I do have some sort of apocalyptic mental collapse, will I be able to tell if I’ve lost my reason or will I have to rely on other people to inform me?
So after a brief but decisive bit of conscience-wrestling I decided that it would be better if I took off. This was a double-blow because I met someone while watching one of the films put on as part of the evening and we had the brilliant idea of going into business together as expert art-watchers. The plan is simple: if any artist felt their work was too opaque, involved or esoteric for public consumption, they would hire professional art-watchers (like me and the girl I was talking to) to stand at the front, stroke their chins and make incisive comments. Gotta be a market for that. Something to fall back on if the performing doesn’t work out…
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